A superficial reading of the book of Amos gives one a feeling of a typical prophet once again calling the Israelite people to repentance, neither particularly profound nor terribly dramatic. And yet the flowery language and literary message are not gentle, and reveal that the people Amos is speaking to have become quite depraved and hardened. We learn of these people that:
- Calamities sent upon them by divine power don’t move them
- They have lost all vestiges of charity
- They completely reject revelation
- Their priests have stopped serving God and serve the devil
Over the time period of Amos’ ministry, the nations of Judah and Israel have been subjected to famine, drought, earthquake, floods, heat waves, dust and sand storms, wildfire, excessive rain, mildew and crop blight, insect infestations (grasshoppers, palmerworm, etc.), siege, battle losses, and even captivity of various cities or areas for periods of time; and from Amos’ words it seems that none of these events had the desired effect of inducing humility or prompting repentance.
If humility is not the most basic human spiritual feeling, might it not be charity, the feelings of consideration for others? When people can no longer feel any charitable feelings towards their fellow brothers and sisters, the spark of conscience must be dim indeed. Amos seems to say that most of the people are so far along this road of moral depravation as to be spiritually dead.
It is not a new concept in the Old Testament for people to reject the words of prophets, particularly individuals that feel particularly targeted by such calls to repentance. Amos, however, devotes a considerable amount of his message to this situation, indicating the depth of this evil in his day.
He begins this topic by reminding the people of their heritage, when the Lord led them out of Egypt but caused them to wander for forty years due to rejecting God’s words (much as they were then doing is Amos’ time) when he directed them to take over the Promised Land from the Amorites and others. Moses’ goal in those days was to inspire the people to live a righteous life, such that they could “enter into the rest of the Lord.” In one instance Moses said, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29). However, the tragedy of the Children of Israel is that when Moses asked them to prepare to enter the presence of the Lord, they refused, telling Moses to talk to God, and report to them what he said; they voluntarily rejected the opportunity to “all become prophets of God.”
Amos goes on to demonstrate that though that was a tragic and unfortunate historical event, the Children of Israel did not reject Moses as a prophet and many looked forward to his counsel from the Lord. However, the people of Amos’ time have gone so far in their devolution that they not only have no desire to become prophets, they have no desire to study the words of the ancient prophets, they do not want to hear the word of the Lord, they have no desire for a current prophet, and they go so far as to command contemporary prophets not to speak of God’s message. (We could say they are “five steps more degenerate” than the Children of Israel were during their wanderings in the wilderness.)
It is a rare occasion when God rejects “wholesale” the sacrifices and offerings of an entire people, let alone telling them in advance that their offerings in the future are already rejected. Yet that is the message of Amos. The priests have turned the places of worship into idolatrous and immoral lairs, and have rebelled against God in a most serious fashion. Their sin is no less heinous than that of Cain, whose deliberately rebellious offering was so emphatically rejected by God.
The “attention getting activity” Amos uses that opens his book is to pronounce the curses and calamities with which the Lord is going to punish their enemies (Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab), obviously wicked people, and then to include Israel and Judah in the list of evil nations. All of these people will be swept away as surely as the Amorites who held the land previously. All of the “great houses” shall come to an end. Israel, who held a lofty place before will join the rest, condemned all the more because she was once favored. Amos’ lamentation (dirge, elegy, requiem, funeral hymn, mourning) is for the death of Israel and Judah.
Through these events, the Lord will sift the people of ancient Israel; the wicked will be separated and destroyed, and the remaining few will be the posterity of the Lord to “raise up the tabernacle of David.
Why Does God Have Secrets?
It is hard not to imagine some tongue-in-cheek as Amos comments that God reveals secrets. Obviously God (by the very definition) knows things that humans do not; certainly he wants humans to know most (and eventually all) of these things; clearly He reveals this knowledge contemporarily, as well as historically down through the ages, to prophets. The role of prophets is to explain and expound upon this truth to all humans; in particular He does not do anything without first telling His children what he is going to do. (In fact, it seems that God’s profound sense of justice will not let Him do anything without clearly warning the human family.) Viewed in this light, one could say that there are no secrets!
One can not help but be reminded of the comment that “none are so blind as those who will not see.” We could then say that the only reason there are secrets is because of the remarkably large number of people who ignore God’s words and those who deliberately try to hide it from the innocent and naive. “For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it. . . .” (D&C 123:12)
Amos makes his point by way of recounting some natural phenomenon, some events and consequences, and emphasizing how assured those results are. Then he compares this to the workings of God; similar to natural cause and effect, the Lord first reveals his “secrets” and then carries out that promised action. The formula is sure, the result guaranteed.
The judgments Amos decrees upon the wicked nations of the area were to shortly begin. In addition, many of the secrets Amos talks about deal with the future, often the latter days, our days. The famine of the word of the Lord he predicted occurred in his day, and lasted for centuries. In addition Amos was assuredly talking about the latter days, when the remnants and repercussions of the Dark Ages (and the Great Apostasy) were finally swept away in the restoration brought to pass through the agency of Joseph Smith. This dualism, one prophecy applying to more than one instance, is a common prophetic technique in ancient Israel, in the Hebrew Bible.
Who Are His Prophets?
Who are the prophets of the Lord? Who does he call to bear his message to the world?
Amos protests to the acting priest of Bethel (“House of God,” one of the first shrines or sacred locations in the Holy Land) that he is not a prophet by tradition or trade, that he does not come from a long line of priests in a bureaucratic continuity. He seems to say this for two reasons, (1) to show that his message must have some validity since he has nothing to gain by taking up this cause, and (2) to distance himself from entrenched priestcraft and show himself taken by God from other circumstances, the way most of the prominent prophets were. When it comes to God’s message, administrative continuity is not always a plus. Amos has been called as Moses was from the burning bush, sent to the kingdom of Israel like Jonah sent to Nineveh.
The appeal of the evil priest that precipitated this reply is telling: “Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court” (Amos 7:12-13).
What Is a Prophet?
Amaziah calls Amos a seer, though factitiously, and in that statement told of what he was doing, seeing the future. He also acts as prophet, expound the gospel message, warning the people, and calling the world to repentance.
“The President of the Church is sustained by the people as ‘Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ This is in compliance with the revealed word of God. The first revelation received by Joseph Smith after the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, specifically declares that ‘there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou shall be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ’ (D&C 21:1).
“The counselors to the President and the Council of the Twelve Apostles and, usually, the Patriarch to the Church, are also sustained as ‘prophets, seers, and revelators.’ This conforms to the Priesthood conferred upon them, and to their official calling in the Church. . . .
“When others besides the President of the Church hold the title ‘prophet, seer, and revelator,’ it follows that the ‘power and authority’ thus represented are called into action only by appointment from the President of the Church, otherwise there might be a conflict of authority. This is well illustrated in the practice of the Church. For example, a man may be ordained a High Priest, an office in which the right of presidency is inherent, but he presides only when called to do so. It is even so with the exercise of authority under these sacred titles. . . .
“A seer is one who sees with spiritual eyes. He perceives the meaning of that which seems obscure to others; therefore he is an interpreter and clarifier of eternal truth. He foresees the future from the past and present. This he does by the power of the Lord operating through him directly, or indirectly with the aid of divine instruments such as the Urim and Thummim. In short, he is one who sees, who walks in the Lord’s light with open eyes (Mosiah 8:15-17).
“A revelator makes known, with the Lord’s help, something before unknown. It may be new or forgotten truth, or a new or forgotten application, or known truth to man’s need. Always, the revelator deals with truth, certain truth (D&C 100:11) and always it comes with the divine stamp of approval. Revelation may be received in various ways, but it always presupposes that the revelator has so lived and conducted himself as to be in tune or harmony with the divine spirit of revelation, the spirit of truth, and therefore capable of receiving divine messages. . . .
“In summary: A prophet is a teacher of known truth; a seer is a perceiver of hidden truth, a revelator is a bearer of new truth. In the widest sense, the one most commonly used, the title, prophet, includes the other titles and names of the prophet, a teacher, perceiver, and bearer of truth.
“One who bears the title of prophet, and they who sustain him as such, are first of all believers in God, and in a divine plan of salvation for the human family; and secondly, they commit themselves to the task of bringing to pass the purposes of the Almighty. They believe that the children of man are capable of receiving and obeying truth. Were it not so, the title ‘prophet, seer, and revelator’ would be empty, hollow words. As it is, they are clarion calls of the Church of Christ to a world walking in the dim shadows of misunderstanding” (John A. Widtsoe, ER, pp. 256-59, emphasis added).
We also have the experience of Moses and Jethro regarding the role of a prophet. “Moses said . . .the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. . . . And Moses’ father in law said unto him. . . . Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” (Exodus 18:15-20)
What examples do we have in our day where church leaders acted as prophet? (explaining in greater detail gospel truths) What examples are there of functioning as seer? (revealing hidden truth) How about revelator? (showing new truth) Where might prominent revelations such as the “Word of Wisdom,” “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” The Articles of Faith, and “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles” fall?
1 “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Also compare the Joseph Smith translation, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, until he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7 JST, emphasis added)
“And all the people. . . . said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us.
. . .” (Exodus 20:18-19)
2 “Unto Cain and to his offering [the Lord] had not respect.” (Genesis 4:5)
“Amos shows that the offering the Lord most cares for is a righteous life–the sacrifices of animals lose their meaning if offered as substitutes for personal righteousness” (Bible Dictionary, “Amos”).
3 Families, dynasties, kingdoms, etc. This is clearly an illusion to Egypt, ruled by Pharaoh – which means “Great House.”
“The houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the LORD” (Amos 3:15).
4 Compare “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matthew 13:13)